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Oceans could rise as much as six feet within the century, so say goodbye to the coast

The effects of human-prompted climate change are varied and unpredictable, and we’re already starting to see some of the effects. Mankind is making some important progress on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, but it might not be happening fast enough to alter the fate of our planet, and that’s bad, bad news for anyone living near the coasts. Several new studies now point to even more dramatic changes in sea level than were previously thought, with data that shows some of even the most dire predictions were off by as much as half.

The new study, which was published in Environmental Research Letters, compiles many different types of data into a single picture of how the Earth might respond to the continued burning of fossil fuels throughout the rest of the century. It’s not pretty.

Using what scientists already know about previous sea level spikes dating back some 10,000 years or so, they were able to make some educated assumptions about how arctic ice will likely behave as the planet gets warmer. The scary part is that, given the most up-to-date models of sea ice behavior, there’s a good chance we could begin to lose ice at an accelerated pace, causing a snowball effect that would push an incredible amount of water into Earth’s oceans.

When the researchers combined that knowledge with predictive indicators of future global warming spikes over the next 80 years or so — using historical markers to paint a picture of industrialization and the socioeconomic pushback against measures to curb climate change — things begin to look even worse.

If the study is accurate in its predictions, even the most over-the-top predictions for sea level rise by the year 2100 — which had been around three feet, which would have been devastating on its own — would be off by half, and the real impact could be as much as six feet or more. The good news is that if we are able to sufficiently curb our burning of fossil fuels there’s a chance we could limit that figure to something closer to 1.5 to 2 feet of sea level rise, which would still pose a huge problem for coastal cities, especially during hurricane season, but would obviously be a lot more manageable than the worst case scenario.